Almost three weeks removed from the July 31st MLB, nonwaiver, trade deadline and we are starting to see whether, or not, the trades that were executed during the month of July are paying off. Some teams that were thought to have “won” at the trade deadline aren’t looking as great as once thought (Dodgers, Nationals, Angels). While other teams are just as good, if not better than, advertised (Blue Jays, Mets, Royals). Then there are the group of teams that I like to call the second base patrol. These teams are pursuing the talents of a one, Mr, Chase Utley (Cubs, Giants, Angels, Yankees)
With a month and a half left to go in the regular season the Wild Card and Divisional races are starting to heat up. Let’s see who is going to be a contender, and who is just being a pretender contender.
Toronto Blue Jays (Contender)
The Blue Jays served notice to ALL of Major League Baseball with the trades that they made during the month of July. Canada’s only team in the MLB finally woke up and realized that they are not a small market team. Fans north of the border haven’t been this excited for a possible playoff run since the days of Joe Carter gleefully rounding the bases in Blue Jay blue and white.
With good reasons too. The Blue Jays in one fatal July swoop landed: Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere, Latroy Hawkins, Mark Lowe, and David Price.
That is to of course compliment the deals that the Jays front office pulled off during the offseason. They signed Russell Martin to be their catcher. They traded for Josh Donaldson. All of the sudden you look up and the Blue Jays are serious contenders for not only the AL East title, but they are serious contenders to represent the AL in the World Series for the first time in 22 years.
Toronto is so great offensively that they have Troy Tulowitzki batting leadoff. Think about that for a second. The number one through four hitters are: Tulo, Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion. They have a combined NINETY (out of a team total of 158) homeruns. NINETY!!! Then you throw in David Price to anchor that rotation, and Lowe and Hawkins to level out the bullpen…and viola you have a World Series contender in a blink of an eye.
For my money I believe that the Jays eventually catch the Yankees for the AL East title. WHere they go from there is totally up to them.
Kansas City Royals (Contender)
The team with the second best winning percentage in MLB (.607), and the defending AL Champions, didn’t do as much as the Blue Jays did during the July trading window, but the two major acquisitions that they did make filled two of their most glaring holes.
They acquired super utility man Ben Zobrist from the A’s. Zobrist fills a few holes for the Royals. First and foremost he is an offensively gifted second baseman, but he can play short and all three outfield positions effectively enough not to be a liability. The Royals offense has been good to great all year but their glaring weakness has always been Omar Infante’s spot in the lineup. Zobrist now brings some pop to the second base position that the Royals haven’t had all year. Plus he can, like I said, play all three outfield spots, as well as DH if need be. So now the Royals have a little more flexibility in their lineup as they head down to stretch in hopes for another World Series berth.
Aside from getting Zobrist the Royals biggest grab was trading for Johnny Cueto. Like in the case with the Blue Jays, the Royals now have a bona-fide number one starter to lead them through to the promised land (they hope at least, Cueto did lose an all or nothing game to the Pirates).
This team is going to definitely win the AL Central going away. THere is a great chance that we get to see Royals v. Blue Jays in the ALCS and if that happens it is definitely great for baseball. Royals get to the ALCS in my opinion, will the Jays be waiting for them? Only the Jays know for sure.
New York Yankees (Pretender Contender)
So here’s the thing. The Blue Jays are breathing down the Bronx Bombers necks as we speak (1 GB in AL East). The Yankees have hung with being the only consistent team in the AL East all the way through July. Then the trade deadline happened. They didn’t get Price. They didn’t get Hamels. To the disappoint of my buddy Sean, they didn’t get Tulowitzki. You know who the Yankees got? Dustin Ackley. Yes, he shaved his facial hair before the press conference.
Yet, they are still contenders for the AL World Series berth. Why? Well, it is what you think. It is because they are the Yankees, and they are always contenders in the AL. Especially during the years where the have an offensive attack that can match any team in the AL.
This years version is being led by the three-headed attack of: Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Alex Rodriguez. If anything is going to stop the Yankees it isn’t going to be their offense, it will most likely be their pitching. After Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees kind of become a AAA pitching staff. If Michael Pineda can come back off the DL and be the pitcher he was before he went on then the Yankees have a chance in a 5 or 7 game series with anyone in the AL. If Pineda comes off the DL and doesn’t have the “good stuff” then the Yankees go from contending for a World Series berth to fighting for a playoff spot.
In the end I think the Yankees sneak in on the wings of the second Wild Card, only to lose before the ALCS.
Los Angeles Angels (Pretender Contender)
The Angels made some cosmetic moves during the trade deadline. They picked up: Shane Victorino, David DeJesus, and David Murphy. Those trades were to help solidify the ANgels offense/bench play. DeJesus can play a mean outfield and that should reduce that amount of runs given up since DeJesus can save runs with his defensive abilities. Plus DeJesus and Murphy were supposed to give the bench some added depth with the slew of injuries that have plagued the Angels all year.
Trout (the reigning AL MVP) and Pujols (a former MVP playing like one again) are doing all they can to help this team win, and guys like Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, and Johnny Giavotella are doing their best to fill in the roles around them. Maybe, just maybe, IF they can land Chase Utley from the Phillies (as that window starts to approach its closing time) they can turn this thing around and not only steal away the AL West from the Houston Astros, but be REAL “contenders” for a World Series berth.
Angels make the playoffs by snagging an AL Wild Card slot. Beat the Yankees in the one game playoff and lose in the divisional round
Houston Astros (Pretender Contender)
The surprise of the 2015 MLB season has been the magical run that the Astros have been on. Houston leads the AL West and is looking to make some noise in the playoffs for the first time since they were a NL team. The Astros front office was aggressive during the July trade window. Their efforts were not for naught either as they secured the rights to: Scott Kazmir, Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers.
Carlos Gomez gives them a legitimate power threat in the lineup and Mike Fiers and Scott Kazmir round out the rotation rather nicely. The Astros have given notice to their fans that they are seriously trying to contend right now, and for the future as well. WHich is nice, and I am really glad that the Astros have turned the corner and become a competitive team again. It’s the same feels that everyone got when the Pirates turned the corner a few years back. The same feels that everyone had for the Royals last year when people started to realize that they too had FINALLY turned the corner and become relevent again. It is the same thing here. People are glad that the Astros aren’t horrible anymore, and that they are finally to a point where they are competitive again.
Houston is going to hold off Texas and the Angels to win the AL West. I don’t think they make it past the divisional round though.
WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR:
Dropping off the Table:
Chicago White Sox
Boston Red Sox
St. Louis Cardinals (Contender)
What can you say about the Cardinals that would do their season justice? Adam Wainwright went down with a torn ACL, from batting, and all their pitching staff has done is compile a team ERA of 2.58. Their five starters all have ERAs under 3, and they have the potential to all have double digit wins at the end of the year. That’s amazing in it of itself, let alone the fact that not one of those pitchers are named Adam Wainwright. On the offensive side of things…hey Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, and John Jay go on the DL? No problem. During the trade deadline the Cards acquired Brandon Moss and Steve Cisnek for more depth. And what do you know, their ROY candidate Randal Grichuk recently lands on the DL as well. The depth of talent on this team is ridiculous.
DId I mention they already have 76 wins? With 44 games to go in the regular season the Cards only have to go 24-20 to finish with 100 wins. Something tells me that that isn’t happening. With a winning percentage of .644 the Cardinals are looking to get into the 105+ win club. They would also like to repeat what the Yankees did in the 2009 post season, and win the World Series after a 100+ win season (and not what the Mariners did in 2001 after winning 116 games).
Right now I cannot see them NOT making the World Series, but for argument’s sake I will say that they will definitely make it to the NLCS with a strong chance at making it into the World Series (as the favorite, no matter who they faced from the AL)
Pittsburgh Pirates (Contender)
If not for the St. Louis Cardinals playing world beaters this year, we would be talking about the amazing 3 horse race that is (would have been) happening between the aforementioned Cards, the Pirates, and the Cubs. But as it sits now it really is like 2002 when the Angels hung with the A’s during the Athletics amazing winning streak that year. The Angels parlayed that into a World Series title, and I think the Pirates have a shot at doing the same thing in 2015. Yes I did say the Cards were the favorite to escape the National League and advance to the World Series, but the Pirates are the one team that has proven that not only can they hang with the Pirates but they can beat them as well.
There is no love lost between those two teams either. The Pirates went out and acquired Aramis Rameriz from the Brewers. Got Soria from the Tigers. Claimed Travis Ishikawa off of waivers. Obtained Michael Morse from the Dodgers for Jose Tabata. Nothing too fancy, but all solid moves to strengthen their bench and over depth heading into the playoffs. If Liriano, Burnett and Cole can go lights out the world may just see the Pirates in their first World Series since 1979.
I can see a Pirates v. Cardinals NLCS with the Pirates prevailing in 6 and advancing to their first World Series in 36 years.
San Francisco Giants (Contender)
The defending World Series Champs are 3 games back in the NL West, and they sit 4 games out of the second and final Wild Card slot. There are rumors that they may go out and acquire CHase Utley from the Phillies but with Panik about the come back from the DL they wouldn’t be able to guarantee enough playing time for Utley to approve that kind of deal. The one move that the Giants did make was getting Mike Leake from the Reds. Even though he is currently on the DL with some hamstring issues, he will be a solid number 2 behind Madison Bumgarner.
2015 is a weird year for the Giants. Aside it being an odd year (the Giants have won the last 3 World Series during the even years – 2010, 2012, 2014), this year the Giants offense has been the one carrying the team for stretches this season. Aside from the starts in which Madison Bumgarner pitches, the rotation hasn’t been as trustworthy as it has been in the past. Never count out the Giants though. They are contenders until they prove that they are indeed going down the other side of the hill.
In the end (with 8 more games remaining with the Dodgers) I believe that the Giants overtake the Dodgers and win the NL West. I do think though that in the playoffs they lose in the Divisional round just because their pitching isn’t as good as it was last year.
Los Angeles Dodgers (Pretender Contender)
I know. I know. You’re thinking to yourselves, “Right. He really thinks this way? Not a chance. This has to be the reverse jinx in play, right?” Unfortunately, no. I do really feel this way. Even when the Dodgers were smashing their way to this 3 game lead in the NL West, I have had my doubts when it comes to longevity in the playoffs. I know that the Giants are in second right now, and unless both teams get hot in a hurry only one team out of the NL West is making out of the regular season. In my opinion it just as well could be the Giants. Why not? They have the talent, the experience, the pitching, the clutch hitting with RISP, the manager with the metal to pull it off. They have everything that the Dodgers are currently lacking.
Sure the Dodgers score ALOT of runs, but more than 46% of those runs are manufactured via the homerun. That isn’t sustainable in games where you face A+ pitching. They also have a losing record against more potential playoff teams. Currently they are 2-9 against the Giants. The bullpen is once again a train wreck and a half, with no reliable bridge between the starters and Kenley Jansen. The offense, while being able to score runs by the bushels leaves too many runners on base (even in the games where score 4+ runs). They aren’t really good at small ball, running the bases gives them fits at times, and some of their players seem more worried about how good their at bats look (as opposed to just moving the runners along and doing your job).
I mean, maybe the Dodgers bats come around during the playoffs, and maybe the pitching staff behind Greinke/Kershaw will step it up and stabilize in a shorter series like the playoffs. Maybe Don Mattingly will show the World that he has what it takes to push the right buttons to lead the Dodgers to their first World Championship since 1988. Maybe.
But history shows us that the Dodgers will either miss out on the playoffs or lose in the Divisional Round.
I have the Dodgers squeaking into the playoffs as a Wild Card and losing in the Wild Card game.
New York Mets (Pretender Contender)
They’re too young. They’re too inexperienced. Yeah well, don’t tell the Mets. The Mets have come out of nowhere to take the MLB world by storm with their infusion of young talent among their veterans in the lineup. They were thought to be maybe a year or two away, but because of the epic collapse of the Washington Nationals (along with some stellar pitching by the young Mets rotation) this year may be their year to reclaim the NL East title. They did trade for Cespedes, and the Wilmer Flores story was a nice one to tug at the heartstrings. So who knows what the next month and a half will bring?
I know one thing though, it’ll be exciting to find out.
Mets hold on to win the NL East and lose in the Divisional round.
Chicago Cubs (Pretender Contender)
WHat’s funny about the Cubs is, everything that I said about the Mets could be true for the Cubs. But in reverse. The Cubs have this cornucopia of young offensive talent, but their rotation is led by a 30-year-old Jake Arrieta. If that makes your cringe it should, but here’s the kicker…
Arrieta is carrying that staff like a true Ace. Sorry Jon Lester, I know you’ve stepped up your game recently but Arrieta has been on point from the word, “go!” With that said I still think that the Cubbies are a year or two away from actually fighting it out with the Cards and Pirates for the NL Central crown.
In the end the pressure is too much for the Cubbies and they barely miss out of the playoffs this year.
WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR:
San Diego Padres
Dropping off the Table:
That is it hope you enjoyed it. Shoot me a comment below and tell me if you agree or disagree with my assessments. Until then keep an eye out for my next article will be about my first hand experience attending a WWE Monday Night RAW event in San Jose.